Cheesy Pop…Paul Nicholas 

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.I don’t believe in guilt and so I can’t have guilty pleasures but if I did I could admit to a fondness for ‘celebrity’ TV reality shows. I don’t mean Love Island or their like but rather the program where Bear Grylls dumped a load of celebs on an island so survive by eating limpets or the one where they had to survive in hypothetical Victorian times had me gripped.

My latest much watch TV was ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ where bunch of old age pensioners travel to India to see if retiring there is an option for them. It is a mini replica of a film of similar name which was, of course, fiction involving a death of one of the travellers which thankfully hasn’t been replicated in the reality show.

And so we had the likes of Sheila Fergusson on the Three Degrees (manic, looks about 40), comedian/naturalist Bill Oddie (genuinely Bi Polar) and dancer Lionel Blair (total luvie) pottering about, doing yoga, feeding stray dogs and pondering about the ageing process. Sheila Fergusson will probably live for ever by sheer force of will but the rest of them, like the rest of us are only too aware of the fragility of life and for that reason just watching them being alive in India is a life enhancing experience (unlike Love Island).

But among the geriatric celebrities is one Paul Nicholas which came as quite a shock for me. It was a bit like seeing Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney tagging onto an old folks outing, which they would be quite entitled to do of course.

Nicholas is guaranteed to get the pulses racing among women of a certain age (about 56) because he starred in a gentle romantic sitcom called ‘Just Good Friends’ where he played a character called Vince. The fact that I even know this is testament to the popularity of the series which I don’t think I ever watched mainly because I didn’t have a television. The ‘will they won’t they’ nature of the show had audiences entranced (I suspect they did by the way) and for a while Nicholas was hot property.

Since then he has been a successful actor and a name that everybody of a certain age will be aware of. He’s still a charming man but perhaps more like a retired head teacher than a sex symbol these days. The hair is largely gone but the smile is still very much intact, he has aged well.

But before Vince, Nicholas was a musician and singer dating right back to the 60’s. After releasing a couple of solo singles he joined Screaming Lord Sutch as part of his backing band The Savages. In the early 60’s Sutch was to rock and roll what John Mayall was to the blues. Unlike Mayall however Sutch had very little real talent beyond outrage but his band was a hotbed of talent. The most famous Savage was Ritchie Blackmore later of Deep Purple. It would have been nice to think of Nicholas and Blackmore trading licks but such was the personnel turnover of The Savages that they were never in the same band.

Nicholas was only with Sutch for about a year and he had continued to release singles under his real name Paul Dean and also under the assumed name Oscar. He was also on the fringes of rock greatness having been signed to the Robert Stigwood agency. The second Oscar single was ‘join my gang’ which judging by the title is a reason to be grateful that it’s writer Pete Townsend didn’t record it with his regular band. The Who connection seemed to persist as Nicholas had roles in the films Tommy and Listomania as well as other films and bits of musical theatre.

But, just for today, I am looking at his brief career as a pop star in the mid 70’s. As the Ramones were playing their first gigs in Britain and The Sex Pistols were playing British pubs and clubs Nicholas was in the charts with three hit singles.

‘Reggae Like it Used to be’, ‘Grandma’s Party’ and ‘Dancing with the Captain’ were all enjoyable pieces of fluff that were on the radio pretty much full time for the second half of 1976. I was a discontented teenager at the time so why would I rather listen to this rather than Rag and Bone Man any day? I can’t even get annoyed that ‘Reggae like It Used to be’ is not related to actual reggae in any sense. What I do like about this trilogy is that although they are pop songs they are not about love at all which is more than you can say about the current top twenty, admittedly ‘Dancing with the Captain’ is hardly a dissection of capitalist materialism but like ‘Grandma’s Party’ is sounds likes somewhere I want to be.

So here they are in full

And yes…that was entertainment for the masses in Britain, just add dancers! 

His next single ‘Heaven on the 7th Floor’ showed that there was a limit to the number of cheerful bouncy pop records we required from Nicholas but it was a far bigger hit in the USA. There was a sense that really he had his sights set on acting and musicals and pop records were just a way of increasing his public profile.

And sure enough the next 40 years were mainly spent in acting with a bit of singing when the role required it although now he has created his sexy pensioner role it’s quite possible he will have a twilight career as a celebrity. Good luck to him.

In the 70s music was subjected to various tribal groupings. If you were a punk you couldn’t like country of if you were a heavy metal fan you just wouldn’t consider listening to reggae. Music was altogether a more serious lifestyle proposition then which may be why today we tend to be more broadminded as music is just one of many entertainment options which we can dip in and out of.

And although April 1st has just passed I feel it is time to have a break from The New York Dolls or The Sex Pistols or Yes or Neu or The Who or whoever we like to think the 70’s were about musically. So for one month only I’m going to look at some of the pop music that dominated the charts and sold a lot more records than The Lurkers or The Ruts or The Cockney Rejects.
If easily offended stay away, see you again in May !

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